Yards are vital for managing livestock. They are used for sorting stock into different classes, or separating sale and prime animals. Yards contain stock for health treatment, shearing, mating, weighing, and for loading onto trucks to go to sales or freezing works.
Yards are usually located centrally on a farm, next to the shearing shed. Temporary, portable yards may be set up elsewhere as required. Many yards have some cover, at least over the drafting race, to shade workers and stock.
Sheep yard fences are generally about a metre high, to prevent sheep from jumping over them, and consist of four or five spaced boards. Modern yards may be built of galvanised steel pipes and sheeting.
Sheep yards comprise a large holding yard that leads into a smaller yard and then into an even smaller ‘forcing’ yard. From the forcing yard, sheep are pushed into a drafting race, which is the width of two or three sheep and narrows in the last three metres to the width of one sheep. At the far end of the race, drafting gates are used to divert sheep into different pens. Usually there are two gates, to divide the mob three ways. However, some yards have an extra gate immediately behind the first two, so the sheep can be divided five ways. The drafting race is where sheep are drenched, with an anthelmintic to kill internal parasites, and treated with a pour-on dip to kill external parasites. The race also holds sheep while they are given ear tags to permanently identify them, or they are marked with coloured raddle (a water-soluble dye) to identify them for drafting. At weaning time, ewes and lambs are run through the race to separate the mothers from their offspring.
Initially, sheep yards had a rectangular layout, with the drafting race in the middle of the complex. However, stock tend to move better in circular yards, and since the 1980s these have become more popular.
Cattle yards work on the same principle as sheep yards, except they are built of heavier timber and the walls are higher. There are a few other differences. Often cattle are drafted in open yards rather than through drafting gates. Handlers use staffs to direct the cattle they want away from the mob, and guide them to a separate pen. The drafting race is mainly a working area where calves are ear-marked, tagged and castrated, and cattle are treated for internal and external parasites. Scales for weighing cattle are kept towards the end of the drafting race, and there is usually a head bale in which cattle can be clamped by the neck to be treated for problems.
Deer are naturally flighty animals and difficult to handle. They run best if the entrance to the yard is hidden from view, and the ideal access to yards from paddocks is through a curved raceway. The raceway leads into a large yard with solid walls. Off this are smaller yards that can hold 15–20 deer, and a covered yard for up to 10 deer. Many farms have a central circular yard with gates pivoted in the centre for a 360-degree swing. A feature of modern yards is a hydraulic crush, where the sides of the pen move in and out and the floor moves up and down. These crushes can become pens about 1.2 metres wide for close work with deer, or made larger to accommodate more animals. The crush is useful for holding large and unpredictable wapiti deer. They are handled from outside the pen.